PHOENIX - Ever since Vince Velasquez threw two 86-mph fastballs and exited a game three weeks ago, the young pitcher has existed in a state of doubt. Velasquez insisted his prized right arm was not badly hurt. He has a spotty health history, had not pitched well before the biceps injury, and made just one minor-league rehab start.
"I had no hesitation," Velasquez said. "No doubts. No nothing."
He threw 84 pitches Monday in an 8-0 Phillies win over Arizona, with every 96-mph fastball an emphatic reminder of the talent Velasquez possesses. In five scoreless innings, Velasquez erased all doubt about his arm.
Had the Phillies not placed Velasquez on a count of approximately 90 pitches, the 24-year-old starter could have continued. He retired the last seven Diamondbacks he faced. He struck out seven. His fastball had the kind of juice it did on the April day when he fanned 16.
And on Monday, his teammates supported him. The Phillies mashed 10 or more hits for the fifth time in seven games. Peter Bourjos, hitting .519 (14 for 27) on this road trip, collected three more hits. Odubel Herrera, who scored two runs, doubled and singled three times. Cody Asche, who missed the first two months of the season, slashed his ninth double of the month. Maikel Franco added two run-scoring hits.
The Phillies scored nine runs in a six-game homestand before this lengthy road trip. They have mounted 44 runs in seven games since leaving home. The hitters, for the first time this season, have discovered prolonged success. The six-run seventh inning was the Phillies' most productive of the season.
But Velasquez was the most important revelation in this rout. The Phillies wanted his time on the disabled list to not only serve a physical purpose but a mental one, too. Velasquez had an 8.31 ERA in the three starts before his two-pitch outing June 8 against Chicago. He could not complete five innings in any of those starts. He looked like a pitcher who needed to be reset.
On Monday, he resembled a pitcher better than the one right before the injury.
"Yeah, he did," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "His arm feels good, obviously. He pitched well."
"He looked healthy," Bourjos said. "It looked like the ball was coming out of his hand and exploding like it did earlier in the year. For him to come back in the rotation like that is huge for us."
During his near-three-week period of inactivity, Velasquez searched for distractions. He ran. He played soccer on the Citizens Bank Park grass. He is not the calmest — even when pitching — and he mostly looked at ease Monday. That will please the Phillies.
"It was a little break to reevaluate all my outings and go over little mechanics here and there," Velasquez said. "Work on certain things, then applying them to the bullpens I had and applying them to the game in Reading. Obviously, today was a big game for me, coming off an injury like that. I was pretty much on top of everything. Everything was working very well."
Velasquez ran deep counts early in the game. He needed 22 pitches in the first and 19 in the second. A missed catch by Tommy Joseph at first base pushed Velasquez's total higher in the second.
But he settled. He used 16 pitches in the third, 13 in the fourth and 14 in the fifth. He struck out Jake Lamb on 96-mph fastballs to end both the first and third innings. Five of his seven strikeouts were on the fastball.
From there, the Phillies bats and Edubray Ramos did the rest. The rookie pitcher, who made an instant strong impression on Phillies coaches and players, tossed two scoreless innings with three strikeouts. And, as the Phillies batted around in the six-run seventh, Ramos was forced to find a helmet and bat.
The 23-year-old had never batted in the minors. He barely stood in the batter's box, as some of the pitchers in the Phillies dugout smiled from the top step. Ramos fouled the fifth pitch toward them. More laughter. The pitcher worked a full count. Then, he walked. Cesar Hernandez followed with a two-run single.
It was that sort of night for the Phillies, who needed it.